State Tournament: Johnson, St. Joseph roll Man in opener
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Is St. Joseph Central the best team in West Virginia, regardless of class?
The question has been raised during its recent string of championships, and it continues to come up as the top-seeded Irish began their expected rampage through the Class A field at the state tournament on Wednesday at the Charleston Civic Center.
The Irish's most-recent victim is Man, which was handed an 89-29 defeat, moving St. Joe within two victories of securing its record-tying fifth consecutive state championship.
St. Joe led 29-0 after one period and scored the first 32 points of the game. Before the Irish (23-1) emptied their bench after three quarters, they led 84-19 over the Hillbillies (15-11).
St. Joseph Coach Shannon Lewis won't answer the question yet.
"I'm not going to say yes right now," said Lewis, whose team has won 13 consecutive state tournament games. "We still have a championship to win."
On Wednesday, junior star Mychal Johnson set a Class A tournament record with 14 assists, moving past Montcalm's Stephanie Davis, who had 12 against Mullens in 1987.
The Notre Dame commitment also came up just one steal short of a quadruple-double, adding 17 points, 10 rebounds and nine steals in 26 minutes.
"I think we're used to playing here," Johnson said.
St. Joe junior Griffin Dempsey led all scorers with 27 points on the strength of five 3-pointers for the Irish, who tied a tournament record with 10 3s, which was set in 1997 by Parkersburg Catholic against Fayetteville.
"We've all played together since we were 9-, 10-, 11-year-olds," she said. "That really helps us know each other."
The Irish hit 57 percent from the floor in the first half and scored 26 points inside, thanks mainly to quick, confident, ball movement that often ended up with a wide-open layup. The team accumulated 16 assists by halftime.
Mychelle Johnson added 16 points and Asia Petitte 15 for St. Joe. Meanwhile, Man struggled to get the ball into the basket.
"We only shot 5-of-22 in the first half," said Man Coach Tonia Ward, whose leading scorer was Summer Sword with 13 points. "That really killed us."
The win was St. Joe's 57th in a row against West Virginia schools, with its last loss to a state team coming to Wheeling Central by a score of 43-40 in the 2008 state title game.
Up next for St. Joe will be a semifinal showdown against Tucker County (20-5) at 1 p.m. Friday. In the meantime, many will continue to wonder if the Irish are the best in the state, although there is evidence to support the claim that St. Joseph is the king of the hill.
"We did beat (Class AAA No. 3 seed) Parkersburg South at their place by 14 points," he said. "I'd like our chances."